Taiwan has the largest population of people over the age of 65 in the entire world. For this country it has become imperative that they increase the number of care partners available to the “grandmas and grandpas” in their lives. To the Taiwanese this means people of all ages must be involved in care for the aged, including the children.
The Taiwanese culture has a long history of inclusion of old with young, therefore this is not a leap for them but rather an extension of what they already know. Americans have it a little bit different.
We have become a society where children are removed from the places and spaces that our older people live simply because our demanding economy reinforces the need for a two income household and no one at home to be with the aging grandparents.
Nursing homes have become commonplace to house and care for our elderly. The inter-generational homes of the 50’s is no longer the status quo and this has led to a deepening of distance, both physically and emotionally, between the young and old.
Today young people shy away from the aged and are seen in comedic television programs “in protest” when they are asked to visit or be a part of a large family gathering. Their exposure may be so limited, they simply do not feel comfortable or confident when interacting with an older person (face to face, not through a screen) and therefore opt out of it whenever possible.
This vicious cycle is creating a culture of children and young adults that have not had the opportunity to learn, appreciate and honor the elders in their lives, leaving them unfulfilled and lacking empathy for aging issues and concerns.
There are two solutions to this ever present issue and they include exposure and empathy training. We need to expose our children to the older generation. We need to break the stigma that “old people are scary, different, strange, unlikable”. Children need to hear the stories of their grandparents youth, told by their grandparents themselves, in order to realize they are not much different from the youth of today.
Opportunities need to be created in which exposure is encouraged and admired and modeling behaviors by the adult children ourselves need to be seen. If we ourselves avoid, then we are only modeling avoidant behavior. Connection can be difficult, but empathy exercises (stay tuned for further instruction) can be used by the entire family to build camaraderie and confidence for each member of the care team.
A culture change is not only needed but desired. Older people have so much to share with the youth, and if we do not stop and give each generation a chance to experience each other, they will both miss out on great opportunities of learning, connection and understanding.